There are now more child labourers in Africa than in the rest of the world combined. Youth leaders are standing together to end this injustice.
16th June is the Day of the African Child, commemorating the brave students who led the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Today, 45 years later, African youth activists are calling out the discrimination which has taken away the childhoods of 92 million children and are demanding action to end child labour. As youth activist Francis Folley from the Malawian Fair Share to End Child Labour simply states: "The increase in child labour is deplorable – strategic intervention is needed."
The number of children forced to work across Africa has risen by an unbelievable 20 million, from 72.1 million in 2016 to 92.2 million at the start of 2020. While child labour in every other region in the world has decreased, the massive rise in Africa means that globally, child labour had increased even before the pandemic. The ILO is also projecting a worldwide increase in child labour between 2020 and 2022 of 8.9 million as a result of the global pandemic.
As part of the Fair Share to End Child Labour campaign, supported by 100 Million, youth activists in Cameroon, Namibia, Malawi, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Togo, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Tanzania have assembled national coalitions of civil society and grassroots organisations to fight for national action to end child labour in their countries.
Rebekka Nghilalulwa, a youth leader from the Fair Share Campaign in Namibia is extremely concerned about increasing numbers of children living in extreme poverty. “This is bad. The numbers are worrisome. This means more and more children are experiencing situations that are forcing them into child labour. Our policies are not intense enough to eradicate this problem – we are not using our resources wisely to help these children.“ The Namibian campaign, along with the campaigns in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Kenya, has already started work to implement its national strategy to make demands that focus on fully implementing laws which already exist to end child labour, creating new laws and policies to tackle the root causes of child labour, and establishing child-focused social protection to ensure that no child is forced out of the classroom and into child labour.
As profiled in 100 Million's recent report, End Discrimination, End Child Labour, Kenya has been one of the countries to recognise that delivering accessible public services can tackle the root causes of child labour, with recent policies to ensure compulsory education for the duration of childhood. However, there is a massive disparity between children based on where in Kenya they live. 100 Million's East Africa Coordinator and Vice-President of the Commonwealth Students' Association, Winnie Nyandiga has long worked in Kenya as well as internationally to campaign for change for child and youth rights. “In Kenya, we have some good progress in fighting the scourge of child labour as a direct result of strong education policies. However, children living in our rural & informal urban communities have yet to see the benefit. If we want to end child labour in Kenya, we must seriously increase our efforts in informal urban areas arid- and semi-arid counties.”
The Fair Share campaign in Kenya has been speaking to child labourers about their experiences, and is giving them a platform to express their feelings and thoughts about their lives. A new short film, released last week, tells the story of David, who entered child labour to help his family's struggling finances during the pandemic - even though he is only nine years old.
12 June was the World Day Against Child Labour, with several commemorative events drawing attention to the massive challenge the world faces in ending child labour. Scholastica Pembe of the Fair Share campaign in Tanzania was one of the organisers of the first Tanzanian commemoration. “This year Tanzania commemorated World Day Against Child Labour for the first time – and it could not have come sooner. We as youth activists and civil society campaigners are ready to work with local and national government to stop our children entering child labour and hope to see new policies that will stop the root causes of child labour." In Tanzania, child labour has proven to be a stubborn problem, and there is an urgent need for changes to child labour and education policies - particularly increasing the minimum age for work, the number of years of compulsory education, and reversing the harmful ban on pregnant girls remaining in school. However, the event on 12 June saw repeated commitments made to end child labour and the Fair Share campaign will work with civil society and government alike to make these commitments reality.
While campaigns are working primarily at the national level, there is also a need for governments across Africa to work together - and on the Day of the African Child there is no better time for intergovernmental organisations like the African Union to support this. United action is needed to prevent cross-border child trafficking, and joint advocacy by African leaders calling for the establishment of a global social protection fund are just two ways the continent can stand together in the fight to end child labour.